Southampton. . . 1
AFTER an afternoon of mounting frustration an equaliser just two minutes from time gave the Chelsea fans some belated relief from their Boxing Day hangovers. Southampton had snatched an early lead and they then held on to it with all the tenacity of unrepentant Scrooges.
Although statistics are a fallible guide, those for the first half of this match are revealing: 45 minutes, one shot on target, one goal. The shot arrived after three minutes and 45 seconds when the Chelsea defence failed to clear a long throw from Perry Groves on the right; the ball was swept back across goal and carried all the way to an unmarked Iain Dowie. The Northern Ireland international had time to control the ball, advance and strike a low shot across Kevin Hitchcock into the net.
After that Chelsea seized control. They enjoyed uninterrupted possession but, with Mick Harford still injured, Robert Fleck was left to struggle alone up front. He could have done with the support of the erstwhile Chelsea favourite, Kerry Dixon, who was watching from the Southampton bench. Graham Stuart and Graeme Le Saux worked the flanks but there was no one to meet their occasional centres.
Southampton are a hard side to break down, with Ken Monkou marshalling the defence and Terry Hurlock hurtling round the mid- field to a chorus of boos like some pantomime dame, Chelsea's pretty approach play too often failed to find any real penetration.
In the second half the limping Groves was replaced by the defender, Jason Dodd, but it was Chelsea who continued to make the running, and with more purpose. Stuart went close, Wise began making forays down the right, and Fleck passed up a trio of inviting opportunities. Following the third of these aberrations he was replaced by John Spencer. The substitute promptly released Le Saux on the left, and Stuart met the cross perfectly at the near post but, while the crowd rose to acclaim a goal, the ball flashed wide off the upright.
It seemed as though Chelsea might have missed their chance. Southampton began to spring dangerous counter-attacks; both Dowie and Dodd went close.
Doubts about the Channel Island mentality came to the fore as, first Matthew Le Tissier capped a petulant display with a caution for kicking the ball away, and then Le Saux flung his shirt on the ground after being substituted.
He should have held his peace. In his absence Eddie Newton pushed forward and, with the end in sight, it was Newton who burst past Jeff Kenna into the box and lifted his shot over Tim Flowers' dive to preserve Chelsea's nine- game unbeaten run.
It was enough to bring a smile even to John Major's face.
Chelsea: K Hitchcock; G Hall, F Sinclair, A Townsend, D Lee, M Donaghy, G Stuart, R Fleck (J Spencer, 67 min), G Le Saux (C Burley, 85 min), E Newton, D Wise. Substitute not used: D Kharin (gk). Manager: I Porterfield.
Southampton: T Flowers; J Kenna, M Adams, K Hurlock, R Hall, K Monkou, M Le Tissier, P Groves (J Dodd, h-t), I Dowie, N Maddison, F Benali. Substitutes not used: K Dixon, I Andrews (gk). Manager: I Branfoot.
Referee: A Gunn (Sussex).
Goals: Dowie (0-1, 3 min); Newton (1-1, 88 min).Reuse content